Monday, October 07, 2013

Historical parallels

Sometime after 9/11 I stopped being paranoid about what I thought was the ever-present possibility of a coup-d'etat in the United States.  There was no need, really, for something like that; the majority of Americans were only too happy to dive into an orgy of militarism and the various abdications of moral responsibility that followed the invasion of Afghanistan - from the PATRIOT Act, through torture and the invasion of Iraq and all the nonsense that followed - had agreement across a broad range of the political and social culture.  People who's political sensibilities I admire (even if I'm far more left wing) like Nancy Pelosi and Tom Dachle and Pat Leahy and Hillary Clinton couldn't see a problem with the direction things were going.  Once the narcissists and egomaniacal ideological fanatics had chased the sensible people out of the GOP after Bush pere lost, it was the D side of the aisle in the House of Representatives that had to be counted on for at least a modicum of caution, to try to avoid too much social experimentation and the wild-eyed douchebaggery that makes it hard to raise children, pay off your debts and rebuild your infrastructure.  If the Democrats and the Republicans thought you needed to do a bunch of stuff that was unlikely to have any positive impacts or sustainable outcomes, then reason dictates you have to argue to change things and hope for the best.  That is, after all, what its about in a democracy.  Especially a democracy that ends up trying all the wrong doors before it picks the right one, to paraphrase Churchill.

We're now, we're told, in uncharted territory.  My hometown paper the other day editorialized that we need a hero to solve the thorny political problem of a small group of fanatics hijacking the government using mechanisms their party put in place two decades ago to restrict democracy.  Apparently a person of strong moral fiber who can solve the problems of governance without "blaming the other side," whatever that means, will get us out of this mess.  Maybe they can make the trains run on time, too.

Because we are in territory that is not uncharted.  The Tea Party faction of the House GOP has taken the government hostage; they are arguing that the undemocratic consequences of filibuster and gerrymandering, when coupled with the Hastert rule, which was itself designed as an unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of a minority, entitle them to nullify the results of 42 previous votes to repeal the ACA, plus the original votes for the ACA and quite frankly an election in which ACA was front and center as a policy issue.

Growing up in Canada I listened to endless debates about whether one was an Albertan first and Canadian second, or whether legislators should listen to their constituents, their consciences or their party.  Those debates are healthy.  The basic ground rule of all politics, though - and maybe Aristotle mentions this, but I didn't read enough Aristotle when I had the chance to - is that the correct choice is the one that sustains the system.  Young people can yearn for change and push it hard and make it happen, and should.  Political systems, however, are more-or-less resilient collections of convention and agreement, and if you decide you want to blow them up, its remarkably simple to do so from within.

What we're seeing with Boehner's inability to pass a clean CR, however, is not, as some would have it, a revolt against the elites or the establishment or taxation in general.  It is very clearly a coup d'etat by a small group of conservatives, funded by a small group of conservative billionaires.  If Obama negotiates then the Kochs, Adelson, Cruz and Boehner will have accomplished what the Business Plot was unable to 80 years ago.  The moves here are identical to what the Nazis did in Germany, and what the Bolsheviks did in Russia.  One might doubt, given the range of acceptable opinion in the US, that the aforementioned billionaires and legislators are as radical as either the Nazis or the Bolsheviks, but we say that both from the vantage point of a long century of consequences and because we think the bad guys must always be homicidal collectivists or genocidal fanatics.  They don't have to be either.  Their primary property is their willingness and desire to subvert the public will for their own personal power.

That describes these guys perfectly.

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